Which sentence is correct? I know simple past should be used for a specific time in the past and when the time is over.

"When I was 11 years old, I had had a car accident." (wrong)

"When I had been 11 years old, I had a car accident." (wrong)

"When I was 11 years old, I had a car accident." (right)

But what about these sentences:

"When I was young, I had had a car accident."

"When I was younger, I had had a car accident.'

"When I was younger, I had wanted to be a doctor."

"When I was young, I had wanted to be a doctor."

Past perfect is used when one action happens before another in the past. but is "When I was young" an action? I am really confused about this and the past perfect tense. If it is not considered an action, why not?

Are these two sentences correct too?

"I had gone to the store."

"I went to the store." (clearly right)

but can you say the first sentence? Am I the only one confused about the perfect tense? Any help or links would help:)

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Oct 19 '16 at 1:57

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.


Please see this post which contains a lot more information on how and when to use the perfect tenses.

To briefly answer your question: As you say, the perfect tense is used to relate two actions or imply a time relationship between now and some action. "When I was younger" is an adverbial phrase, not a separate action. All it does is tell you when something happened, no different from saying "yesterday" or "last year" or "in prehistoric times". Just setting a time frame for an action isn't enough to justify using the perfect tenses -- there has to be a good reason to relate two actions. For example:

When I was younger, I had wanted to be a doctor.

Incorrect. Simple past is sufficient. "I wanted to be a doctor".

When I was younger, I had wanted to be a doctor -- until I saw the movie "Top Gun". Then I wanted to be a fighter pilot.

Correct. "Had wanted" implies it was true, but something happened to affect that desire.

With this information you should understand why "I had gone to the store" is incomplete. You need to have something else happen to justify using the past perfect tense:

I had gone to the store when I remembered I was late for an appointment.

I had just gone to bed when there was a loud noise outside.

I'd started the exam before I discovered I'd forgotten all my pencils at home.

As with most things in English there are subtleties and exceptions with the perfect tenses that you have to learn with practice. Hopefully this will be enough to get you started.